Communication stress: the secret bane of business

From client meetings to boardrooms

It almost makes me weep to see so many high-flying execs painfully stressed about important events. Offices around the world would be much happier places if senior personnel recognised that this overwhelming anxiety is unnecessary. Work would become more productive without endless hours spent on something which probably needs a fraction of the time.

In the days and even weeks leading up to an Event (always with a capital E) over-anxious executives can barely think about anything else. Their sleep suffers, their muscles contract with unreleasable tension, their worry levels shoot through the roof. It doesn’t matter whether they are preparing for a board meeting, a media interview or a keynote speech: the discomfort is the same. It can be incapacitating.

Confidential concerns

The main fear is forgetting what you’re going to say or giving the impression that you’re not up to the job.

If you are light-skinned it is easy to give the game away by blushing beetroot red. (Of course women can always put this down to hormones, but no-one wants to do that in front of senior colleagues or clients.)

You might have the tendency to shake, sweat, go pale, develop a dry mouth, tremble vocally and/or lose your train of thought. In this last case, the ‘forgetting’ worry becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the likelihood of appearing incapable increases exponentially.

With communication stress so incredibly widespread, I’m in the very privileged position of hearing about it from some of the most senior personnel in the business world. I’m also in the very lucky position of being able to help.

The elephant in the room

Communication stress is an enormous elephant in the room on many occasions, and most of the time it is completely invisible. So while you might be swallowing hard at the thought of the contribution you’re about to make to that significant meeting or what you’re going to tell the audience of VIPs who’ve flown in from far-flung countries, you can be pretty sure that at least one other person in the near vicinity is struggling with the same feelings of impending doom.

There are some very real, biological reasons why your brain switches off at moments of great stress. At times of great danger it is evolutionarily advantageous for you not to focus on intellectual activities. It’s more important to get the hell out of there when your life is at risk, rather than sit quietly and weigh up the philosophical advantages versus disadvantages of the situation. But let’s be honest – a business communication is hardly going to kill you.

Communication stress: a hidden health issue

I have the utmost sympathy for anyone who suffers from communication stress, but I am also frustrated on their behalf, as this doesn’t need to be an issue. If more people spoke out about it, more people would get the support they need.

It’s a crying shame that senior people feel they have to be so secretive about their issues with communication, particularly as this can affect their health, working relationships and professional progress.

I believe that communication stress should be medically recognised as a health issue. It should be considered on a par with issues like depression: widely discussed, with sufferers treated compassionately in the workplace and help available on demand.

However, while people with depression were once stigmatised, communication stress is so covertly hidden that no stigma has ever grown up about it. There’s not even a little green shoot of a stigma. It’s still very much underground and from what I can tell, it’s likely to stay there.

Overcoming communication stress

A very savvy US President once told America that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Franklin D Roosevelt was well ahead of his time in understanding the problems we cause ourselves and voicing them so eloquently.

The good news for secret sufferers is that the stress, worry and fear surrounding work-related communication is eminently surmountable. As I tell my senior clients, much of it is about knowing how to communicate effectively.

That means knowing how to frame a message effectively to get the optimum reception from your target audience. It means knowing how to deliver that message well. And it means understanding your body well enough to control your physicality and take charge of the event (which now has just a little ‘e’).

This is all certainly possible. I’ve helped many, many people to wipe out their communication stress entirely – sometimes very quickly. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch. I’m on a mission to crush communication stress in the boardrooms of Britain and beyond, and I’d love to help you stamp out your concerns and find your communication spark so you can shine on every occasion.